Alexander's Road to Nowhere? Or a Polk County Economic Driver?
It looks like Senate budget chairman JD Alexander of Lake Wales might win his battle for an independent Florida Polytechnic in Polk County.
Now, Martin Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times has a story that implies Alexander might be getting another big project for his home county: funding for a new expressway.
It's $35 million, and although faithful readers of the Polk County papers might have known it was in the budget, this story came as a surprise to many folks.
In fact, Alexander and some other lawmakers working on the budget said they had no idea it was in the budget.
"Don't know anything about it," Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said Wednesday. "Not involved in any way." Not everyone is buying it. "Sen. Alexander planned this perfectly," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "I'm concerned that, between USF Poly and the parkway, taxpayers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. And for what? To accommodate one state senator.
They're now calling it the Central Polk Parkway, but it tracks the path of the proposed, controversial Heartland Parkway,
That's a road that would go through the rural middle of the state (and open it up to development.) It would connect eastern Polk County to Collier County.
The Tampa Bay Times headline said "Senator's road on track," referring to Alexander.
Alexander's corporation owns land along the proposed Heartland Parkway -- but not the segment now being called the Central Polk Parkway.
Our reporter Robin Sussingham (who lives in Lakeland) says its more complicated than the Times is suggesting:
"This part is in a populated area. It has been requested by transportation officials. It is connected with the CSX hub and the expected traffic from USF-P or Florida Polytchnic," she wrote in an e-mail.
"It is not on Atlantic Blue land. It has little in common with the greater Heartland Parkway, which was widely opposed."
In an interview with WUSF today, Tom Deardorff back that up. He is the director for the Polk Transportation Planning Organization.
"The Central Polk Parkway is a stand alone project that predates the Heartland Parkway. It's something that's been identified as a need locally here in Polk County because it will relieve traffic congestion on US 98 as well as on US 27," he said.
I spoke with Van Sickler, who says there is lots of evidence that the Central Polk Parkway is part of the Heartland Parkway. He says state officials even made that point in their planning documents justifying the parkway.
He also said a previous Department of Transportation study said the projects are not feasible -- both the larger Heartland Parkway and the Central Polk Parkway.